RT. REV. HORATIO POTTER, D.D., LL.D., D.C.L.,
BISHOP OF NEW YORK.
F.J. HUNTINGTON AND COMPANY,
459 BROOME STREET.
THE following Discourse contains a restatement of some truths which are already familiar to every intelligent Churchman. If they shall be found set forth with marked emphasis, with a good deal of amplification, and with some sharpness of outline, the explanation must be sought for in the peculiar circumstances of the present time.
My Brethren: Do we read this strange Gospel aright? Are fallen men, even though redeemed and sanctified, fit to be set up on high as "the Light of the World?" Who on the earth shall presume to arrogate to himself a Divine attribute? We know Him that saith: "I am the Light of the World; he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the Light of Life"--a word spoken in the Jewish Temple, which lives forever, and which has found an echo in millions of hearts all round the earth. The eternal Son of God made man; "the brightness of His Father's glory, and the express image of His person;" God manifest in the flesh; the Sun of Righteousness; that true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world; the only source of spiritual illumination to darkened souls. As in the old pictures of the Nativity, all the rays which light up the interior of the wondrous stable come beaming from the Divine Infant, so in this otherwise dreary cavern of sin and death, all the light that gladdens our eyes and cheers us on our way--all the light that enables us to see ourselves and the things that belong to our peace--streams forth from Him, who is in Himself unchangeable life and light--the same yesterday, to-day, and forever.
He is our everlasting Light! Yet are the words in the [9/10] text no false gloss--no impudent interpolation by a sacrilegious transcriber, brought in to flatter the vanity of men. Wonderful as they are, they are the very truth as it is in Jesus. He who said of Himself: "I am the light of the world," said also to His disciples: "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid." Adorable mystery of grace! That our blessed Lord should draw His redeemed ones so very near to Himself--should make them partakers of His divine fullness, and ascribe to them, appoint for them, attributes and functions so like His own! Each member of His mystical Body and partaker of His grace, breathed upon by Him, and quickened into newness of life, is appointed and set to be a "light in the world." He is to reflect the Image of his adorable Redeemer. He is to hold forth the word of life. He is to be a Personification of Truth and Holiness. The Heavenly lessons, which, buried in books, or set forth only in the generalities of discourse, would fail of effect; he is to draw out and turn into a Heavenly life, that it may walk abroad among men in a visible body, engaging their attention, conciliating their esteem, making palpable to their view every lineament in the beauty of holiness, and kindling in their souls a sympathetic emotion of piety and goodness. By the truth, which he openly confesses and maintains,--by the visible works of his hands in the service of the Lord--by his avowed reverence for the unseen--by the public worship which he fervently pays in the great congregation--by the character which shines out in the family, and along each daily walk, he diffuses Christian light, and helps on the saving of the world. It is the testimony of Origen in his treatise against Celsus, and of other early writers, that the good lives of Christians [10/11] in those first ages, their marvelous purity, and devotion, and zeal in good works, did more to convert the world than miracles or preaching.
Indeed the lives and works of Christians were themselves miracles of grace; and they were miracles of all others most wonderful and most convincing to a world lying in darkness and sin. The healing of the sick they might and did attribute to Beelzebub, to magic, to mysterious arts. But when a new race of men appeared,--with no temporal power, seeking no worldly advantages, bearing a Gospel as startling and glorious as it was humbling; sealing their faith, when necessary, with their blood; not only holding themselves aloof from the corruptions of the world, but glowing with devotion and love; consecrating themselves to the relief of the poor and the miserable with a steady, systematic energy and self-sacrifice, never so much as conceived of before; in all the relations of life pure, gentle, tender, unselfish, humble, yet as lofty in their spirit as in their faith; and when that new and strange race rapidly grew, and extended its influence, in spite of edicts and tortures, a moral miracle was presented to the ungodly world--a miracle which wrought upon the respect and sympathy and conviction of obdurate men, as no other miracle ever did or could. They were, indeed, the light of the world.
But these Christian men and women, who so astonished the world by the way in which they gave themselves to holy living, to devotion and to good works, they were not mere insulated individuals. Neither were they a mere aggregation of individuals brought together by voluntary association. They were members of a divine institution, an organized body, a regulated society, a heavenly [11/12] kingdom, which preserved through successive ages its identity of essence and unity of spirit, growing continually by increase of members, extending the influence of its truth and holiness most when most it seemed to be crushed, until it insensibly changed the face of nations, and inscribed its principles high over all the codes of the civilized world. It is the Church of the living God. When our blessed Lord says to His disciples, at an early period of His ministry, "Ye are the light of the world; a City that is set on an hill cannot be hid," He speaks of them collectively as well as individually. He speaks for all time; and in the "City set on an hill," He prophetically foreshadows the Apostolic Church, the eternal City, of which He is the Light, and which is to shine in the world with brightness derived from Him.
No longer Himself visibly present with us, as when He spake, He leaves that visible Church to represent Him and to do His work, promising to be in her and with her to the end of the world. She is now visibly the "Light of the world," shining by the power of His spirit, by the operation of His grace, by the glory of His divine Presence--shining by her Truth, by her Holiness, by her Worship, by her Works of love and mercy.
How this divine Kingdom has met the mutations of eighteen centuries, moving on steadily through the rise and fall of earthly kingdoms, always furnishing the only true light in the world, the only saving principle; subduing and changing demoniac peoples, until they were found clothed and in their right mind, and breathing a peaceful, benignant spirit; how, from a little one at first, speaking in the ear in secret, shining with a dim light, hiding herself in caves, yet attesting the divinity of her Truth and [12/13] Mission at the stake and in the arena; how she has advanced and risen in majesty and beauty, bowing the hearts of the humble and the mighty, until she is, indeed, become in the whole earth as "a City set on an hill," which cannot be hid,--all this I need not seek to unfold.
But one thing, my brethren, is clear: If the Church be the only Light, and, therefore, the only hope of the world, and if this one only light must shine more or less purely and brightly, according to the character of the light placed on the candlestick, on the seat of the Apostolic ministry--according to the life and teaching of those appointed in the Church to hold aloft the Truth of God--and according as the Light of holiness in her members burns brightly or dimly--then must the words of our Lord come home to our souls as a solemn, yea, startling charge: "Ye are the light of the world." God help us! We are dust and ashes! Right reverend Fathers and Brethren, what think ye? We who sit in the seat of the Apostolic ministry-- we who are placed highest as watchmen on the walls of Zion--who are set in the forefront of the glorious army of torch-bearers--can we venture to hope that our lives, our teaching, our works, are in any degree answerable to the idea of being in our sphere the "Light of the world?" If the best light shed forth from the Church upon the darkness of the world were only such light as ours, would it penetrate the gloom of ignorance and sin?--would it suffice to insure the advancement and ultimate triumph of the Truth of God? Are we in any way worthy to tread in the footsteps of that glorious Apostle to the memory of whose conversion and ministry this day is consecrated?
And ye, Brethren of the holy priesthood, "Ministers of Christ, and Stewards of the mysteries of God," appointed [13/14] to the immediate cure of souls, to be teachers and servants of all for Christ's sake--the candle of the Lord, set on the candlestick to give light to all that are in the House--the Household of God--how judge ye? Ye know your calling. In accepting the authority, you consented to the requirement of the Lord: that ye be, in your places, the "Light of the world." Is it a Light that keeps Christ ever within the view of the people? Are there, in your discourses, no idle questions, no fond inventions, no ambitious discussions, which only tend to shut out the true Light from heaven? In your life and doctrine, in your ministries among the poor, the afflicted, the ignorant, the erring, the dying, is yours a light to cheer, to guide, to warn, to save? Is it impossible for any to be near you, and follow you, and yet stumble in darkness? Are the alienated (drawn toward the brightness of your light) changed inwardly by the spirit of God, as they come near? Are your zealous, far-reaching labors such as to contribute to make brighter the one great Light in the Church at large--in "the City set on the hill"--so that the world may see it more clearly from afar? Blessed be God for a laborious, able, and largely faithful Priesthood! It is a day, my Brethren, for searching questions; but, thanks to the Giver of all grace, it is a day not without joy and consolation to a loving Chief Pastor. In the strength of that consolation, let us speak the whole truth: "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." "If the light that is in you, if the light that is in us, be darkness, how great is that darkness!"
And as for you, Brethren, Christian People, members of the Church of God, of the Body of Christ, partakers at these altars, you too, in your degree, are included in the divine appointment. In the words of our Adorable [14/15] Master, spoken to all His disciples, behold your dignity, your privileges, your duties, your responsibilities. "Ye are the Light of the world;" you constitute the great body of the Church of God; you give character to the worship in the Holy Place; you hold up the hands of the Ministers of Christ; you supply the Treasury of the Lord; you give practical energy to the varied agencies of God's Church; you go about doing good among the poor and miserable, and in ten thousand other ways; you carry the light of a pure, peaceable, engaging Christian spirit into the walks of business, into many a mixed social circle, into many a public council; at least such is your calling, as baptized members of the Church of God. In a very extended and important sense, you are appointed to be "the light of the world." Without your aid, we may almost say that every light in the City of God would go out. And surely every light in public worship, in public and private ministries, in mission enterprise, in Christian society and business, will burn brightly or dimly, according as the people, the Christian laity, are full of loving earnestness, or cold and worldly. How is it with you, beloved Brethren? Are your daily lives raised up to the conception set before you by your blessed Lord and Saviour? "Ye are the Light of the world." Again I say, God help us! God bless us, and pour His grace upon us, that we may all, in our several places, duly execute our trust, to the edifying of His Church, and the glory of His Holy Name!
But let us come to particulars. What of the duty and office of that branch of the Church catholic of which we, through the mercy of God, have the happiness of being members? A pure branch of the Church will be, in all essentials, ever the same--the same in her Faith, in her [15/16] Ministry, in her Sacraments, in the principle of her Worship, and in her Work; but her trials and her duties will vary somewhat with her position in different ages and countries; and the task of her Chief Pastors will be less or more difficult, according as she is passing through quiet times, undisturbed by new phases of thought and action, or through times of movement and conflict,--and, of course, according to the kind of assaults to which she is exposed.
For this branch of the Church of God we are to-day about to consecrate, in this central city of the nation and of the continent, a Chief Pastor. On such an occasion we may be allowed to consider for a few moments what arc the character and position of the Church in this Country, and what are some of her trials and duties. In doing so, we must repeat old and familiar truths; but, my Brethren, old truths recalled by fresh developments, often suggest fresh lessons of wisdom and duty.
In this Country, then, as everywhere else, our branch of the Church stands in the via media--occupies the middle ground between Romanism on the one side, and ultra Protestantism on the other; between intellectual and spiritual bondage at one extreme, and unbridled licentiousness of individual opinion at the other extreme. [An attempt to explain and justify the use of this oft-repeated phrase would be a waste of words. It certainly does not mean that the Church is eclectic in her character,--that she has looked about her and skillfully chosen her position in the mean between two extremes. But it does mean that while the Church holds fast by her immutable principles, rests immovably and securely upon her old foundation, extreme errors have sprung up on both sides of her. If any shrewd critic should object that the Church cannot be exactly in the middle between the definite and fixed position of Romanism and the indefinite and changeable positions of the sects, the objection might excite a smile, but it would hardly suggest a doubt of the reasonableness and sufficiency of the long-accepted phrase.] On the one [16/17] side we see corrupt additions to the primitive faith and order, erected into a false witness to the world--a witness which is confuted and stamped as perjury alike by Scripture and by the unchangeable, incorruptible primitive witness; and on the other side we hear the conflicting Babel voices of the sects, each calling Heaven to witness that it has the true Light, but each contradicting the other; and all confuted again, and stamped as error and delusion by the plain letter of Holy Scripture, and by the unanimous testimony of the Primitive Church as to the true meaning of that Scripture. Once more: this Church occupies a middle ground between a branch of the Church which has bound herself to retain the trappings, the superstitious usages of the middle ages, and the various sects which, rejecting all outward dignity of expression, have tried the experiment of presenting religion in an abstract, disembodied form; and, in defiance alike of the Divine pattern in the elder Church, and of the imposing worship of the united early Church, and, I may add, in brave defiance of the deepest principles of our nature, have set their faces against every thing like majesty or beauty in the outward representation of objective Truth, or of inward feelings of devotion--Religionists who flatter themselves that they possess the spirit because they reject and denounce the body!
What a position is ours! Midway between a Church, on the one side, which adds to her Creed when she pleases, takes away the Cup of Salvation from the laity at her own sovereign will (both measures true exponents of all her policy), making her appeal not to Scripture or the primitive witness, but to the judgment of her existing authorities, and arrogating to herself an infallibility [17/18] which can belong only to the Church universal, duly represented in a general council; and, on the other side, Sects which practically have no creeds, and which, taught to prefer new things, even in religion, to the old, are liable to be blown about by every wind of doctrine, and condemned to receive as oracles the crude speculations of the last plausible popular thinker.
This Church, then, is Catholic and Apostolic, as distinguished from the novelties of Romanism on the one side and from the novelties of the Sects on the other. She stands immovably by the old Faith, the Faith of the old creeds, the faith "once for all" delivered to the primitive saints, the Faith contained in Holy Scripture, and witnessed to by the whole united early Church. She holds fast by the one, threefold, apostolic Ministry, handed down in unbroken succession from Christ, and will admit within her Pale no other. When she passed through the Reformation in England, she was content to make it a Reformation, and not a Revolution, as on the Continent. She simply cast off the corrupt additions of the middle ages, taking care to retain unimpaired what was Apostolic, and witnessed to by the Ante-Nicene Church. While the Continental Reformers allowed themselves to be deprived of the first order of the Ministry--that order which for 1,500 years, everywhere and always, had been held to be indispensable to a valid Ministry--the English Church put away the usurped authority of the Bishop of Rome, but watched zealously over the constitution and the succession of her Ministry, as a thing vital to her being.
What is it to be Catholic? It is to possess those elements of Truth and Order, those Means of Grace which have been witnessed to always, everywhere, by all. The pretended [18/19] Supremacy of the Bishop of Rome is not catholic; Transubstantiation, Purgatory, half-Communion, Mariolatry, they are not catholic, for in the first Christian ages they were not. I marvel that the members of this Church, who constantly profess their belief in the "Holy Catholic Church," should be in the habit of speaking of Romanists as Catholics, as members of "the Catholic Church," a communion which we refuse to enter, which our branch of the Church has pronounced to be corrupt, and which, at the best, is but one, and that a diseased one, among many Members of the one great mystical Body of Christ. Calvinism, Lutheranism, Wesleyanism, they are not catholic; they are of modern origin. They are mutilated systems, peculiar phases of thought, partial and extreme doctrines, springing up in certain localities, under the influence of abnormal excitements. They have put the speculations of men in place of the broad, genial, catholic truth of the Gospel and the early Church. With unbounded religious activity, their extravagancies of thought and action on the one side, like the abuses and corruptions of Romanism on the other, have helped to fill the world with rationalism and infidelity.
But, as our branch of the Church is Catholic, so is it also Protestant; Protestant on both sides--Protestant against the early heresies and the medieval novelties of Romanism, and Protestant against the hydra-headed novelties of modern sectarianism. The Nicene Church was Protestant against Arius, and against all similar heresies. She said then, as the Anglican Church said afterwards at the Reformation, "Let the ancient usages and the ancient Faith prevail." So, too, our branch of the Church is Protestant against a mutilated Ministry; Protestant in the [19/20] Preface to her Ordinal, and in her whole Law, declaring that "it is evident to all men diligently reading Holy Scripture and ancient authors" that her threefold ministry dates from the Apostles' times; that it was always in the Church, always deemed essential, and that in her ministrations she will allow no other.
Now the Church of God was Catholic before it was Protestant. It was Catholic before error arose. To be Catholic, universal in time and place, universal in the witness to her truth and order, is of the essence of the Church. If she have not those elements which make her a branch of the Holy Catholic Church, she is poor indeed. But to be Protestant is an accident, owing to the springing up of error to be protested against. To put the two terms, Catholic and Protestant, on a level, as being equally essential to a description of the Church, is absurd. The one is inherent and vital; the other is one form of manifestation of the Catholic, protesting against what is not catholic. Indeed, the term Catholic itself implies all that is contained in the word Protestant, since the things protested against are of course excluded and condemned by the very term Catholic.
These observations spring from no desire to change or to ignore the full title which our branch of the Church has chosen to assume. They are made by one who is little given to change, and made only because they belong to a frank and distinct exposition of principles and facts.
Our branch of the Church, then, is placed where the Truth may almost always be found, in the mean between two extremes. It follows of necessity that a reformed Catholic Church, occupying this middle ground, will have some things in common with the Roman Church and [20/21] some things in common with many of the Sects. In common with the Roman Church we have the old creeds and a valid Ministry, though in that Church the Creeds have been overlaid with false matter, and the Ministry is put in a false position, and often to an ill use. In common with the Sects we have an open Bible, and many things that result from its familiar use by the people; though, as we have seen, the Sects lack the safeguards needful to prevent the abuse of the sacred oracles.
Again, we might anticipate, what the Church has always experienced, that, being in a middle position, it will be misunderstood and misrepresented by both extremes. From the one extreme we are charged with being almost Romanists, while from the other extreme we are taunted with being as one of the Sects. We are in the middle of the line; and, according to the laws of perspective, we seem to the party at one extreme to be very near the opposite extreme.
And once more: Considering that the Church is in the mean between two extremes, and is a large Body, embracing persons of different antecedents and different habits of thought, it is no ways wonderful that some members of the Church press over to one side of the body, looking toward one extreme, say of the Sects, barely keeping within the external limits of the Church; while another class of thinkers press over to the other side of the Church, looking more toward the opposite extreme--that of Rome. But it is due to truth to say, that while there is a large class of persons in the Church who are in sympathy with the Sects, and cherish many of their ideas, there are, it is confidently believed, very few among us who make the least approach to sympathy with Rome.
 Now if we duly reflect upon the character and position of our branch of the Church; that it is "built upon the Foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief Corner-Stone;" that it is conformed to the model of the primitive Church; that all its great features are attested by Catholic consent (the witness of all ages); that it is essentially unchangeable in its principles, faith, and order, because continually comparing itself with God's Word and with the unchangeable primitive standard;--that it is founded on a Rock, in the mean between two extremes; I say if these things are duly considered, no wise man in our body will be much concerned at the taunt of the Romanist, that we are as one of the Sects, nor at the cry of the Puritan, or Rationalist, that we are almost, if not quite, Romanists. We know that we are neither the one nor the other; and we know that these accusations, on the one side and on the other, are partly the effect of ignorance and prejudice, and partly the cunning device of evil men, wishing to frighten us from our position, or to hold us up to popular odium.
In such a position, my Brethren, what is our duty? In this country, we are emphatically a Light "set on an Hill." Shall we hide that light under a bushel, and teach and think and feel as if we were a Sect, and not a pure, immovable branch of the one Holy Catholic Church? Shall we forsake our position? Shall we accept of Romish error in our anxiety to avoid Sectarian error? Or shall we accept the teaching of the Babel-world of Sectarianism because we abhor the corruptions and frauds of Romanism? Now God forbid! And if we have any among us who are with us, but not of us, who incline to the one extreme or to the other, shall we allow them to seduce us [22/23] or to drive us from our lofty impregnable position as a true, Catholic, Reformed, Apostolic Church? or shall we allow ourselves to be startled by ambiguous or threatening voices in the air, or by the fugitive eccentricities (bubbles on the stream) of yesterday and to-day, as if this eternal Rock of Adamant were going to be moved from its base? Again I say, God forbid! "In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength."
The country needs our Light and our teaching from the one precise point which we occupy. My brethren, I am afraid there are too few among us who fully realize how wonderfully our branch of the Church, in England and in this country, has renewed its life within the last thirty years. It has been by far the greatest revival of Religious Life and of genuine Catholic Truth that has taken place since the Reformation. While the Anglican Church has by no means weakened its old protest against Romish error, it has perhaps learned to distinguish a little more clearly between what is Romish error and what is catholic Truth. Threatened with spoliation by the State, it had to seek, almost as if anew, for its true principles and its real foundations. Instead of any longer relying upon the mere fact of its union with the State, contenting itself with narrow views and frigid modes of action, under the influence of mere reaction from Romanism, she took a larger and a freer range, of thought. She went back beyond Romanism to the primitive Church, and re-examined what she found there in the light of holy Scripture. She saw that she was Catholic before she was Protestant. She saw the fervent and absolute devotion of the primitive saints, and how much was yet lacking in her own service to God. She hastened to translate and popularize [23/24] the Patristic devotions and the Patristic theology, and so to let it loose upon the mind of the Church.
In such a movement, it was to be expected that some ardent minds would take extreme and partial views, and be lost to the Church. Many of them, ingenuous persons, discovered and avowed their error, and returned. But had the loss been vastly greater, it would have been a thousand times repaid in the new life and power infused into the whole Church.
Then the primitive Ethos was revived within the Church. Then she had greater thoughts, and more humbling thoughts. Then she inquired, not what was anti-Romanish, or anti-Methodistical, but what tone of teaching and what modes of Christian work were inculcated in the word of God and in the lives of His saints through the ages all along. Then she saw that the Cross was not a Romish bugbear, but the most affecting of all Christian symbols. Then, she felt that a deeply reverential and expressive worship was not superstitious, not unspiritual, not a thing of pomp and vanity, but the dictate of charity, and the absolute requirement of a soul recognizing the glory of God in creation, and His awful, blessed presence in Holy Places. Then she no longer feared to invite religious men and women to devote themselves absolutely and exclusively to the service of God, in earnest works of piety and charity, provided they refrained from irrevocable vows. Then her great beating heart rose up, and her rekindled eye swept round through her distant, neglected Colonies, and searched down, with fear and trembling, through her uncared for towns and suburbs, and among her almost forgotten poor, and miserable and degraded millions.
And what has been the result? Read it in the 3,000 [24/25] Churches erected in thirty years, instead of the fifty in the same period, as in the previous age. Read it in the colonial bishoprics endowed all round the globe, and served by noble, highly educated, apostolic men. Read it in the million of pounds now being expended in missions among the poor and degraded in the single city of London. [The expenditure extending over the term of ten years.] Read it in the labors of polished clergymen and cultivated laymen and women in the lanes, and alleys, and dens of that fearful city. In their morning's devotions in the Lord's house, perhaps they do commit the dreadful atrocity of turning their backs toward the people (I mean, their faces toward the Altar), but, by the testimony of a very competent and not very partial witness, they go forth to wear out their lives, to positively ruin their health, in painful ministries among the neglected and the miserable. [When, in the Communion Office, the Priest passes from addressing the people to addressing Almighty God, he is directed to "turn to the Lord's Table." But for the influence of the weakest of prejudices, the instincts of Priests and People would impel them to do so in all cases of prayer. When the House of God is turned into a concert-room, there is reason for being offended; but when the Minister merely takes a position which expresses outwardly that he is addressing, not the people, but the ever-blessed and adorable Trinity, it is hardly worth while for the worshiper to be excited about it. While saying this, I beg to add, that I have no wish to encourage violent or offensive changes in the manner of celebrating divine service in any part of this Diocese. Quite the contrary.] Upon the poor souls in distress, in ignorance, in sin, in sorrow, their backs they never turn. [To intimate an unqualified judgment respecting all the opinions which may be entertained by the persons here referred to, or respecting their peculiar mode of celebrating divine service--if there be any thing peculiar--was no part of the Preacher's purpose. He lacks the requisite fullness and certainty of information, and he has no occasion to step beyond his own province to exercise any judgment at all on such matters. Much less could the Preacher have any thought of reflecting unfavorably upon the laborious and highly esteemed Bishop referred to above as a witness. What the Preacher did intend to do, was this: To show how certain kinds of work have revived and grown in the Church, and who were some of the persons that had taken a foremost part in that work; and, finally, to expose the narrow spirit now so prevalent in certain quarters--a spirit which leads prejudiced people to snatch at some one obnoxious feature in the service of a devoted man of God (a feature quite innocent, and entirely within the long-recognized law and practice of the Church), to hold it up in a partial and sinister way, to excite the passions of the ignorant, and making it appear, in its distorted shape, as the index to the whole character--the one vitiating element of the whole life.]] O for a little more generous [25/26] sympathy, a little more courage, and a little less narrowness in the members of a Catholic and Apostolic Church! I say again, the country needs our Light and our teaching, from the one precise point which we occupy. Fathers and Brethren, what say you? Shall we be afraid to take to ourselves Catholic (not Romish) agencies and methods of work, because in ages of reaction from Romanism they were rashly thrown away, along with things which were errors and corruptions? Shall we submit our principles and our modes of action (our policies) to the judgment of persons outside of the Church, or to the judgment of persons who, being in the Church, have not yet imbibed its spirit, nor learned to comprehend its position and principles?
There are those who choose to speak of the old, long-recognized, long-authenticated doctrines of the Prayer-Book, as if they were novel interpretations of the Baptismal and Communion offices--new developments of a hidden tendency toward Rome. This is nothing new. The historian of the great English rebellion tells us that there was a certain class of persons in his day who were fond of calling "those whom they liked not Papists;" and it has been so ever since. It is the favorite cry, [26/27] sometimes of ignorance, sometimes of malice. [There is a class of persons who have a most compendious mode of reasoning and judging. Let a body of clergymen, or of lay people, bow at the sacred name, or include in their worship some outward acts of reverence and devotion not recognized in the system of their censor, and forthwith they are denounced as formalists--as destitute of spiritual religion--as being half Romanists. One hardly knows which to wonder at most--the utter inability of such people to comprehend a phase of Christian character different from their own--their recklessness in judging of their neighbors' hearts--or their passionate zeal in traducing in private and in public their neighbors' religious principles and spirit.] To shield ourselves from the odium sought to be cast upon us by that cry, we have but to embrace a course of policy which is simple and easy. Treat the vital parts of the Baptismal and Eucharistic offices as a dead letter; renounce the literal teaching of our great formularies; refuse to keep company any longer with the Primitive Fathers, or with the great masters of English divinity--the Jeremy Taylors, the Richard Hookers, the Bramhalls, the Bulls, the Hammonds, the Wilsons; degrade this branch of the Church into a Sect; recognize not merely the personal excellence of individuals belonging to religious systems around us, which we do most cordially, but recognize the divine authority of the religious systems themselves; accept the language, the policies, the religious ideas which are derived from sources external to the Church: do this, and in one quarter, at least, we shall be relieved from censure.
No, no! If our branch of the Church is to be the "Light of the world," she must be upheld and administered in her true meaning and spirit. She must let her Light shine by her catholic Truth, her catholic Worship, and her catholic Works. Her truth is the Truth of Christ; her office is to set Christ before men. Her entire year is employed in presenting Christ and His Truth on every side and in every [27/28] light. It is not the Truth of Christ cut up into systems, cold, dry, severe, distorted, that the Church presents to her children, but a living, present, personal Christ, full of divine love, pity, wisdom, truth, grace. It is the Grace of Christ, not reserved for the supposed elect--not withheld at one time, and given in a mysterious, arbitrary way at another--but given to all before they ask it, yea, to those who never heard of it--given to all with special promise, even to little children, who are grafted into His mystical Body in holy Baptism; and free and ready to be given in larger measure to all who will seek it and use it aright. It is the Peace of Christ, not reserved as a special reward for frames and fancies and excited feelings; not imparted exclusively to those who, for some mystical reason, can believe that they believe to the saving of the soul, and that once believing, they can never fail. But a righteous Peace--a Peace of love and pity, breathed sweetly, gently upon all who, looking to Christ, and moving in His appointed way, devote themselves in humble sincerity, though in weakness, to the doing of His will; and in and through Him to the working out of their own salvation.
O, my brethren, we may argue with men; we may heap up rhetoric, we may draw out fine-spun theories, we may impose our hard dogmatic statements until we turn their hearts to very stone! But when, in the simplicity and tenderness of Truth, we bring Jesus of Nazareth near to them, they melt in contrition and love! God help the Church to bring the simple truths and the simple methods of the Gospel near to all the bewildered people of this land! God help the Church to paint on the sky, over our heads, where all men may see it, the image of Incarnate Love, in place of that clouded, austere countenance which [28/29] now darkens and repels millions of souls in this nation. The Peace of Christ has as little to do with the hair-shirt on the one side as with spiritual paroxysms and phrensies on the other.
Once more: The Church is to let her light shine in this nation by her worship. Worship implies doctrinal truth, and makes that truth living and influential. It is an humble and adoring approach and offering to Almighty God, and not an entertainment contrived to attract and gratify a crowd, though, if it be rightly ordered, and conducted with lowly reverence and glowing devotion, it will interest and impress more than the most splendid performance which is full of the vanity of man. The great world around us needs to see religion, and to see the Church, as they can be seen only in a subdued, reverent congregation in God's House, fervently uniting in worship in the beauty of holiness. Let there be an absence of all false views of religion, of all unrealities, of all ambitious displays, of all negligence, and such worship will do more than sermons, important and indispensable as sermons are, to engage, to instruct, to awe, to kindle, to convert.
I thankfully recognize the reverence and propriety observable in worship in most of the congregations in this diocese. Great improvements have been made in the last quarter of a century, and I believe that many of the clergy, if they could surmount the difficulties in their way, would be only too happy to carry improvement still farther. I have no hesitation in expressing the opinion that there is yet room for improvement. Certain improprieties yet find place among us which nothing but familiarity prevents us from seeing in their true light. To remove those improprieties would be to make our worship a more worthy [29/30] offering to Almighty God, a richer blessing to the worshipers, and unspeakably more useful to the great world of lookers on.
In regard to Ritualistic tendencies (so called), I shall, on such an occasion as the present, say but a single word, to express the hope that everywhere there will be Moderation,--on the part of those who think themselves called upon to make their religious services more reverent, more expressive, and more imposing, Moderation, as opposed to unnecessary changes,--Moderation, as opposed to all conscious and intentional insubordination,--Moderation, as charitably avoiding all things which can occasion needless alarm, or in any way seem to misrepresent the truth as held by our branch of the Catholic Church. [In the clamor of the present day, Ritualism is a most convenient term. It is at once vague and comprehensive. It may mean almost any thing that by perversion can be made obnoxious to popular prejudice. Any act in the way of outward reverence or ceremonial which goes beyond the most sordid service is "Ritualism."] And in places of authority, among the rulers of the Church, Moderation, as opposed to all narrow views on the great and comprehensive subject of Divine Service in the Church of God, and especially as opposed to all hasty and partial action.
My Brethren: A great many evils are of a nature to cure themselves. Real excesses will vanish "as the morning cloud and the early dew." There is an holy fire of zeal and love for good works being kindled in the Church which will burn up and sweep away all that is vain and unreal in her courts; and when the petty ephemeral excitements of the day shall have passed away, we shall again find, as on former occasions, that the Church has [30/31] gained and not lost. Again I say, "In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength."
Yes, and lastly, in a single word, the Church in this country is to let her light shine before men by her zeal and love for Good Works prosecuted on sound principles. If she means to have God's blessing, if she means to commend herself to the hearts and consciences of the wavering millions of this land, she must bend herself yet more earnestly to the Preaching of the Gospel to the Poor; to painstaking works and offices (including both Clergy and Laity) among the neglected, the miserable, the degraded. We may dispense for the most part with arguments for the Church or for the Truth of God, if we will only do, with all our hearts, the Work of the Church, which is the work of Christ, and do it where He did it, among the lowly and the lost! Blessed be God! The true Fire is kindling, and spreading, and burning more and more brightly! "The Lord of Hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge."
Beloved Brother: When I speak of earnest work in the Church of God, I know I speak to your heart, and in unison with all your labors in the past, and with all your purposes for the future. The people of this Congregation, like every Flock that has known you as a Pastor, bear loving witness that you have "made full proof of your Ministry." To-day we say to you, "Come up higher!" We commission and send you forth to fill a place made vacant by Death. You succeed to a learned, earnest, and amiable Christian Bishop. The only charge I ever heard preferred against him was, that he was not quite enough of a Partisan! Your whole life gives us assurance that the Diocese which, so unexpectedly to yourself, called you to be its [31/32] Chief Pastor, will find you earnest in preaching Christ; able and energetic in organizing and pushing on all church work; a sound interpreter of the Book of Common Prayer; free from all fancies and from all extravagancies; kind and patient and unselfish and sympathetic toward all the members of your Flock, from the highest to the lowest.
When you enter the House of Bishops, you will find yourself seated at one extremity of a semi-circular line of Chief Pastors. As years roll on--only a very few--it will be an impressive thing to you to observe how rapidly you are moved up that line; those above you, one after another, dropping out, and others being brought in below you! What is it but a monition to us all to look up to the adorable Head of the Church for grace and strength, and to do what our hands find to do with our might.
He whose head is white with years and with toil--being, as he may say, just about to depart--salutes you, "Brother," with a loving and a grateful heart--loving, for what you are, and grateful for what you have done in his diocese.
God help you! God comfort you! God make you bold for Christ, His truth and His Church, and humble for the sake of your brethren! God help you so to study, so to pray, so to preach, so to minister, so to live in the midst of your Flock as a Chief Pastor, that you may both save yourself and them that hear you. Grant it, all-merciful Father, for thy dear Son Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.